Posts Tagged ‘high school’

Keeping Teens on Track

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In my last post, I talked about keeping kids on track, which is really more about keeping track of what they do. It’s far more effective to let kids direct their own education than it is to hold them to anyone else’s timetable or curriculum. Planning ahead is OK as long as your kids are involved with the planning process. But for older kids and teens, planning ahead is essential.  Again, your kids must be involved with the planning process. They must own it. Everyone is responsible for his or her own education. You play a vital role as academic adviser, counselor and administrator, but you can’t make anybody learn anything. If you want your kids to learn things, it is really more effective to give them control. That means you will have to give up control. There’s no pretending here. If you say,”It’s up to you what you will study, but you need to include ___, ___, ___, ___, and ___,” then your kids are smart enough to know that it really isn’t up to them. You have to be willing to let them skip math or writing or whatever it is, with no guilt trips, and then they will know you are serious about giving them ownership.

Listen to your teens, take them places, find them resources, mentors or classes in subjects they are interested in. Help them find and decipher information about careers and college admissions. Let them work and learn to take care of themselves as much as possible. Give them responsibility, and give them the freedom to learn what they will. This sounds crazy to some people, because the teens they know would sleep all day and play video games all night if given the opportunity. But this is only because the teens don’t think of education as something they do for themselves; they think of it as something done to them. It’s a little bit like the difference between starting your own business and going to work at some indifferent job for a paycheck. People often work much harder for their own businesses than they will for someone else, even if they are conscientious workers, because they OWN it.

So, how do you keep teens on track if they own the track?

First, as I’ve said before, let your kids be involved with the planning. Sit down with them and make a list of the things they want to study. Go to some college websites and print out lists of recommended high school courses, extracurricular activities, and testing requirements (pay attention to homeschool requirements in particular because they may be different from public school applicants). Even if your child is not interested in going to college, it’s helpful for them to know what might be required if they change their mind. If they have some other profession in mind, like the military or a trade, help them find out what type of educational attainments would be expected. Together, make a master plan, in pencil, of your child’s remaining homeschool years. If he or she will need to take two or three years of foreign language to be accepted into a college, it’s better to find out early than it is while you’re filling out applications.  You should also make note of what your state homeschool laws require. Armed with this information, your student should be able to see what they would need to do to move forward, even if they are not interested in a particular subject. When kids are younger, education can be mostly interest-driven, but as they get older, they are able to make choices based on necessity. But that doesn’t mean they have to forgo their interests! The great thing about homeschooling is time and flexibility. There are ways to combine personal interests with “required” courses, so be sure to write down personal interests.

After you’ve made up a rough master plan for the long-term, focus on the year ahead. You can use a unit study or literature based approach again, but frankly, if your kids are planning to go to college, it’s so much easier to make up courses the way other schools do. Then, when you are creating high school transcripts for them, colleges will find it much easier to understand what your kids studied. So, take the to-do items on your student’s list and turn them into courses. When my son wanted to learn about forces, vectors and motion for game design, we made a course called, “Physics for Game Design.” When he wanted to learn about banking, personal finance, and our economic crash, we combined all of those topics in a course called, “Economics.”

Once you have the courses figured out, you need to figure out what resources will be needed. My kids were perfectly happy to have me figure this part out. I love researching books and they usually trust me to pick out something they’ll like. But I always talk to them before ordering anything. When picking out math curriculum, I’ll narrow the field to two or three possibilities, and they will take sample lessons from the different companies to decide which style they prefer. Sometimes, my kids already knew which books they wanted to read, and then we made a course out of those books. One of my sons loves computer programming, and since those books are so expensive (yet impossible to find in any library), he keeps a wish list for his birthday and Christmas. There’s no way I could pick these books out because they make no sense to me, but he does his own research to find the best ones. My other son loves theatre, Shakespeare, mythology and writing so it was easy enough to combine these interests into one course called “Language Arts” and let him pick which books and plays he wanted to read anyway.

Once the courses and resources are figured out, it really helps to break everything down into a schedule, either by day or week. How much of each resource/book will you need to cover? If certain courses are required, such as Geometry or American Government, it helps to look at your state curriculum standards (look online) to see what skills or topics students are expected to learn in these courses. If required courses are less defined, such as “Social Studies” or “Fine Arts,” then you can be more flexible when deciding what to include in each course. Figure out what could realistically be accomplished in one week for each course. Or, even better, let your student figure it out. This could be done on notebook paper, any of those downloadable planning forms, or homeschool planning software.

Here’s where the “Keeping Teens on Track” really comes into play. If your students have been involved with planning their own courses, and assigning lessons for each week, it should be up to them to mark off when items are completed. They need to have access to these plans, to be able to see what is ahead and how much more needs to be done. Some courses we did together because it was more fun that way. We would take turns reading aloud, watch documentaries, and have long discussions about the subject at hand. For other courses, like math, they would get in the habit of doing it at a certain time, and then we would all grade their assignments afterward. I made it clear to my kids that I wasn’t going to bug them about getting stuff done, but they asked me to help remind them. Plus we had so many conversations throughout the day about stuff they were reading or doing that it seemed to naturally keep them going.

It seems counterintuitive, but I found that the more I backed off my kids, the more responsible they became. Sometimes, they wouldn’t do math for days because they were more interested in finishing a series of books or a new video game. But then they would do two assignments in a day or work on the weekend to get caught up. When they started taking courses at our local community college, I didn’t help them at all. They would come home and tell me about what they were doing, but they never had trouble adjusting to a classroom environment or more formal homework assignments. In fact, they did very well.

If you have given your teens freedom, but they still don’t seem to be doing anything constructive, try to reconsider what you believe is constructive. If they are playing video games all day, play with them and see what it is all about. Be patient and listen to your kids, without judgement. Expect them to work and take care of themselves as much as possible. Do things with them, get them out of the house, help them find mentors and volunteer opportunities. They won’t be able to resist learning and growing – but it might not look like what you were expecting. It will be better.

Homeschool College Applications

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Tis the season for college applications – is anyone else overwhelmed with the number of documents and forms required? It’s especially tough for homeschooling families because we first have to write our own transcripts, with course descriptions, and figure out GPA, credit hours, etc.  It’s not too bad if you have been keeping good records all along, but even then it takes some time to assemble everything in a professional looking format.  I used the book Homeschooling High School: Planning Ahead for College Admission by Jeanne Gowen Dennis for help with these details.

Once your transcript is complete, you still need to be the Academic Advisor and help your student keep track of all the different requirements for each of the schools her or she is applying to. Having gone through this twice so far, here are a few organizational tips:

  1. Start a folder for each school you are applying to, and insert the application checklist along with hard copies of your essays and other materials specific to that school. There is no need to make copies of materials submitted online in the common application. This is where you store any correspondence and financial aid information for that school as well.
  2. Prepare another reference folder with a copy of your prepared transcript, course descriptions, and homeschool description (if necessary). Your student will probably need to enter this information in a variety of online forms so it helps to have everything in one place.
  3. Prepare a simple spreadsheet with a list of your colleges on top, and a list of requirements along the left side. See my example below:

Example of College Application Spreadsheet

 

Note that I didn’t fill in all the data for this spreadsheet yet – it’s just an example. But you can see how useful it would be to keep track of what has been submitted and what is still missing. Your student might have other requirements too like an audition or portfolio submission. You can customize this however you want. I did this in Microsoft Excel, but Google Documents has a spreadsheet feature that works very well, for free.

My kids filled out all of the necessary forms online, but I checked everything for accuracy and to fill out the information for household income and parents’ education/employment. They wrote drafts of their essays and personal statements on Google Documents so that my husband and I could read them and offer suggestions as needed. Once the drafts were as good as they could be, they just copy/pasted them into the online applications.

The nice thing about online applications is that you can work a little bit at a time, saving as you go, and then when everything is perfect, hit “submit” and hand over your credit card number.

This year, my son and I will be keeping track of scholarship applications the same way, but first things first. We gotta get these things done! I’ll let you know how it goes.

Homeschool Plans for 12th Grade

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The only child I’m homeschooling at the moment is my second son Aengus. He is in 12th grade this year and getting together his college applications so we have a lot to do.

Here’s what we have planned so far:

He’s taking Spanish II and Physics for dual credit this semester at our local community college (not sure yet what he will be taking next semester)

AP Calculus at home – probably using Thinkwell’s online course but we’re still reviewing

English/Language Arts at home  – Aengus will select a list of “living books” to read, plus “Reading Like a Writer” by Francine Prose; and he’ll go through assignments from Julie Bogart’s “Help for High School” Brave Writer program.

Computer Science at home – this takes up the most time because Aengus has been feverishly programming a new homeschooling recordkeeping/planning application for Mac (for more info see: http://www.ollyhomeschool.com). He has been programming with Windows languages for years but only started learning Mac about a year ago.

We still need to work out something for social studies/history so he’ll have enough appropriate credits for college applications. Aengus isn’t really interested in another general American or World History course. He’s more interested in specific subjects that may or may not relate to one another, so we’ll have to be creative. Here’s what we are thinking:

  • Fall Semester: Understanding events in the Middle East (this would take several lifetimes to learn, so we can only cover a tiny bit):  “Innocents Abroad” by Mark Twain, “Islam – A Short History” by Karen Armstrong, “The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East” by Sandy Tolan; and maybe “The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power” by Daniel Yergan.
  • Spring Semester: History mixed with science: “The Human Web: A Bird’s Eye view of World History” by Robert McNeill and William McNeill and “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson

On the side, Aengus and his brother are learning how to do online video tutorials. They want to make a series of how to build/reproduce ancient architecture in the Minecraft game. This will involve a certain amount of research into the landscape and architecture of ancient Greece, Babylon, Egypt and other places. With any luck, they’ll become rich and famous YouTube stars!

Aengus also takes regular drumming lessons and is looking for a band to play with (in all his free time!).

If anyone has suggestions for our history/social studies books – I’d love to hear them!